J2 Content – Perspectives

A varied collection of thoughts on education and parenting

A Tale of Two San Diego Charger Fans

For the last couple of years, the San Diego Chargers have been a Super Bowl contender. Led by the league’s #1 passer at quarterback and the game’s best tight end, the Chargers have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. This past season the team’s star wide receiver held out for more money, and the Chargers parted ways mid-season with an All-Pro player seeking a contract extension. This core group has been together a while, and it seems like next season could be the one where they finally win it all… if there IS a next season. Charger fans love their team, but we know the window of opportunity for reaching the Super Bowl is narrow. The NFL is in the middle of a labor issue that could wipe out a whole year of football, possibly costing this group of Chargers their best chance of winning a Super Bowl.

The year is… 1982.

I was 11 years old in 1982. I’ve been a Charger fan since I was 8, and I was riding in ’82 high after special ’79, ’80, and ’81 seasons for the team. I had no understanding, at the time, of what was going on between the players and the owners, nor did I have any idea how long (and painful) a dry spell I’d have to sit through after it was resolved until the Chargers would again be a contender.

After the strike of ’82 and Fouts’ retirement a few years later, I thought every season might be the one where they got back on track. I believed Jim McMahon would be our savior. I thought Billy Joe Tolliver might get the job done. I renamed the running backs on my Commodore Amiga football game “Natrone Means”, “Marion Butts”, and “Gary Anderson.” I watched daytime episodes of Wheel of Fortune just to see Rolf Benirschke a few more times. I cheered when they drafted Ryan Leaf (who could’ve known?). I waited a long time for the Chargers to return to be the force they were in 1981.

A dozen years after the strike-shortened 9 game season, Bobby Ross, Stan Humphries, and Junior Seau finally got the Chargers into the Super Bowl. I enjoyed a few winning seasons. Unfortunately, it was a short run, and the team quickly fell back to the bottom of the NFL standings. I’m thrilled they got to the big game, and I appreciate every bit of the success they enjoyed and the pleasure they gave the fans – but as with all good things, it came to an end far too soon.

From 1997 to 2003, the Chargers averaged just over 5 wins per season. The year my son was born, 2000, the Chargers went 1 – 15. When a west coast team is playing that poorly, they just don’t sell fan paraphernalia for that team in east coast stores. Luckily, I had my sources. Ebay was just coming into its own, and I was able to get some toddler clothes for my boy. His uncle, who lives in San Diego, sent some items. I ebay’d a fathead helmet for his wall, and when the time was right I passed on a San Diego Charger doll I’d won at the Jersey shore in the early 80s.

There were plenty of reasons for him to root for other teams. We lived in the Jets/Giants television market, and the Chargers were NEVER on TV. His uncle was a Patriots fan, his godfather was a season ticket holder to the Jets, and no other family around were Charger fans. Although I had given him a Drew Brees Charger jersey to wear, he had plenty of other gear from other teams to wear too thanks to the clearance racks at Marshalls. It didn’t help matters that the Chargers were just plain awful during the first four years of his life.

None the less, my boy is as passionate a Charger fan as I ever was: maybe more so. He cried himself to sleep the nights the Chargers were eliminated from the playoffs in 2008 and 2009. His bedroom wall is a shrine to past and present Charger players, and nearly all his online user ids have the term “Charger” in them somewhere. He went out for Halloween as a Philip Rivers in 2009, and he has written the man more fan letters than I ever wrote Dan Fouts.

He’s enjoyed 3 years of the Chargers being a Super Bowl contender and saw them come one chilly AFC Championship game away from making the Super Bowl, just as I did when I was his age.  And just like I was in 1982, he’s blissfully unaware of the labor strife in the NFL and how it could cost his team a year that could be THE year. He’s counting down the days until the scheduled start of football, wondering if for the third year in a row the season will open with the Chargers broadcast on national TV, playing their Week 1 game on either his or my birthday.

Just I did in ’82, he believes his team is destined to win it all and that this is their time, and like me at his age, he has yet to endure a 4 -12 or 1-15 season as a Charger fan.  The “tough times” he knows as a fan have been playoff losses. Even when his Chargers went 8 – 8 in 2009, they won their division with an amazing end of season run.

I love that we share this common bond. Now that he’s older, I look forward to trying to take him to at least one game a year (maybe attending a road game at a different stadium each season?). I love that his fandom is sincere and his own. It may have been inspired by who I rooted for, but I am confident that the Chargers are his team now. He despises the Patriots, Raiders, and Steelers (his disdain for the Jets is only tempered by the fact L.T. now plays there).

As a Charger fan, I worry about how the Chargers will fare after a lockout this spring. I fear that a lengthy stoppage may force the Chargers to take a step back from being one of the NFL’s elite teams and close the window for this core group. As a father, I realize I need to explain to my boy what’s going on between the NFL and the players association and what effect it may have on our team, but I’m looking forward to riding out the next dozen+ years of Charger highs and lows with a fellow fan, my son.

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